Irwin's widow aims to expose Japan's whale hunt as a sham

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The widow of Steve Irwin, the self-styled "Crocodile Hunter" who was killed by a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef last year, is to conduct scientific research among whales in Antarctica in an attempt to demonstrate that Japan's scientific whaling programme is a sham.

Terri Irwin, who launched a whale-watching project this year in honour of her late husband, will expand it into "non-lethal" studies of the mammals. "We can actually learn everything the Japanese are learning with lethal research by using non-lethal research," she told Nine Network television in Australia yesterday.

Japan catches more than 1,000 whales a year under a loophole that allows the creatures to be hunted for scientific purposes, despite a 20-year-old moratorium. It says it is necessary to kill them to gather reliable information about their eating, breeding and migratory habits.

Critics regard this as a smokescreen given that most of the whale meat is sold commercially. Last week Japan bowed to international pressure and abandoned its plan to kill up to 50 endangered humpbacks this season. But it will continue to harpoon minke and fin whales in the Southern Ocean.

Ms Irwin said her studies of whales would be carried out in conjunction with Oregon State University in the US. She added: "We are determined to show the Japanese they can stop all whaling, not just humpbacks."

The Irwins' nine-year-old daughter, Bindi, is to record an anti-whaling song and release it in Asia to raise awareness of the issue there. Steve Irwin, a flamboyant television naturalist famous for close encounters with crocodiles and other wildlife, died while filming a documentary in north Queensland. A stingray's barb pierced his heart.

Since then, his family have been active in preserving his memory. As well as running the family zoo in Queensland, Terri Irwin recently released a memoir, Steve & Me. Bindi has launched her showbusiness career in the US, where her father had his biggest audiences, with a 26-part wildlife documentary called Bindi the Jungle Girl. Her brother, Bob, four, is also said to be keen on a showbusiness career.

Earlier this month, Terri Irwin gave her backing to a militant anti-whaling group, the Canada-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, allowing it to rename a flagship vessel after her husband. Sea Shepherd has acquired an international profile through its tactics of engaging the Japanese fleet in violent confrontations. Japan has condemned the organisation as terrorists. "Whales are such an integral part of the ocean, and hunting is such a cruel and awful thing," Ms Irwin said yesterday. "It needs to be something that is in our ancient past, not something that we continue to do." Launching the family's whale-watching operation last June, Ms Irwin said that it had been her husband's dream "to be a full-on warrior for whales, to tackle the Japanese harpoons head-on".

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